Friendship Bridge client for 13 years
In many Guatemalan communities, a culture of machismo remains prevalent, and the ideal of gender equality is unfortunately an aspiration and far from the reality. The advancement in society of women is crucial to the development of the country as a whole. Meet Petrona, a woman who is determined to building a better future for herself, her family, and her community.
58-year-old Petrona is married and a mother of six children. She is from a rural community in the Guatemalan highlands known as Santa Lucia Utatlán. Petrona lived a very difficult childhood, losing her father when she was only four years old. For that reason, she was also unable to attend school.
When Petrona was six and her sister four, her mother decided to get remarried. They all lived together for almost nine years. The last few years were complicated, as Petrona's five step-siblings began to advise her stepfather not to provide for Petrona and her sister, as they were not his biological daughters. Her stepfather was convinced, and he forced Petrona and her sister to leave the home, but made their mother stay.
Petrona and her sister went to live in the old house that belonged to their late father. At that point, Petrona was already skilled in hand embroidery - she had learned it from friends during her early childhood in her community. She was able to put this skill to use during those years in her early teens; when she was not taking care of her younger sister, Petrona would work for a lady making embroidery. With this lady, she learned to weave on a sewing machine and to make aprons. After a few months, her mother came to live with them, as she had been suffering physical abuse from their stepfather. Wanting to be there for her mom during those hard times, Petrona was determined to work even harder. She would get up at 4am to grind cooked corn which would then be used to make dough for tortillas. After she completed all the house chores around 6am, she would continue with her weaving. This was a schedule she kept up for almost a year and a half.
When she turned 16, Petrona decided to marry Santos, a hardworking man and a tailor in her community. They would end up having six children together. From a very young age, Petrona had always admired the women who owned their own business - it was something she deeply desired for herself. When she told Santos about her idea to start her own embroidery business, she was a bit discouraged by his lack of enthusiasm or support. After some time went by, however, Santos told her that he was okay with her idea, but he did not give her any capital to start with. Still, Petrona was able to accumulate enough savings from her weaving to start her business. When reflecting on that decision, on that leap; she comments that she did it primarily for her children (at that point, she was a mother of two).
By the time she was a mother of three, Petrona faced a huge challenge in her life: her husband made the decision to go to the United States, leaving her alone to raise the children. Santos worked for nearly three years abroad. When he returned, he bought a few things for Petrona which he could afford with his savings; one such item was a sewing machine for Petrona. Petrona felt truly blessed, as this sewing machine would enable her to grow her business even more. With the business growing and also wanting to be there for his family, Santos decided to stay in Guatemala as opposing to returning to the States. A little later, one of Petrona's daughters, who had just turned 18, decided to go to the United States. Even though Petrona did not initially agree with her daughter's decision, she feels very grateful that her daughter was successful and able to build a good life for herself there over the past 18 years. A while later, Petrona's husband decided to return to the United States. This time he spent nearly eight and a half years living and working there. Upon returning to Guatemala, he once again put his savings into the family business, buying several sewing machines that would help Petrona immensely.
Petrona heard about Friendship Bridge for the first time through a friend 12 years ago. At that point, she had been seeking to grow her business even more, and thus the timing was perfect. Petrona joined the organization and, with her first loan of Q1,500, she was able to buy a large quantity of threads, fabrics, needles, among other materials for her embroidery business. In addition to the funds, Petrona was thankful for the lessons she received on various topics in her monthly Trust Bank meetings. Learning about business management, self-esteem, leadership, women's rights, and more truly empowered her, she reflects.
In 2018, Petrona joined Handmade By Friendship Bridge® to further develop her artisan talents. Very happy to be part of the program, she shares: “I feel fortunate to be part of Handmade by Friendship Bridge® because I have learned a lot and I continue learning. This strengthens me and makes my products even more lively. I am thankful to [the Production Coordinator of Handmade by Friendship Bridge®] for convincing me to be part of it."
The trainings through Handmade by Friendship Bridge® which Petrona has particularly appreciated include the ones on the following topics: budgeting, business growth and scaling, customer service, and investment plans. Petrona remembers presenting her first samples to the team - traditional vests - and how proud she felt when they were accepted. and that being accepted. Today, she produces a range of products, including vests, caps, yoga mat holders, and more. Petrona feels thankful that, today, when she receives an order over the phone, she can easily understand the product/order specifications, e.g., regarding measurements. She emphasizes that the trainings have helped her a lot in understanding standard measures for the international market as well as seasonal colors.
In addition to the loans and trainings, Petrona has received preventive health services through Friendship Bridge's health program, Health for Life. She has a newfound appreciation for the importance of taking care of her physical health, and advises other women to have annual exams, as well.
Petrona has six children (five daughters, one son)
Petrona currently has five employees (they assist with the production of blouses)